Donald Trump

In which my mother has (good) advice for the IOC

In which my mother has (good) advice for the IOC

Maybe you have a Jewish mother. Maybe not. I do. I’m the oldest son, of four boys. Let’s be honest. Being a sportswriter? Is this a doctor, or a practicing lawyer, or something else brag-worthy? OK. Does my mother truly, honestly care about sports? Do you have to ask? 

Like me, my mother went to Northwestern. Could she tell you who the Wildcats are playing this weekend? Not if her life depended on it. 

So you might understand further how little sports intrudes into my mother’s life, especially these past few days: last week, my mother, her husband of nearly 20 years (my dad passed away many years ago) and the fugly dog had to be evacuated from their home in south Florida because of Hurricane Irma. (Update: some minor damage to the patio outside, more or less everything OK.) 

Hurricane be damned, a matter of import apparently had been weighing on my mother’s mind. “I want to tell you something,” she said in that tone that when your mother uses you go, uh-oh. Obliging son that I am, I replied, “Yes?”

It has been a long time since, you know, I lived under my mother’s roof. Even so, she likes to keep up, at least in a general sense, with my whereabouts. She knew I was bound for Peru, and the International Olympic Committee session at which Paris would be awarded 2024 and LA 2028.

“These Olympic people,” my mother said, “have a big problem on their hands.”

Nevertheless, the IOC persists

Nevertheless, the IOC persists

BUDAPEST — Amid the rocking splendor of the 2017 FINA swimming championships, there are three parallel threads that dominate conversations at the Duna Arena and the riverfront hotels where Olympic, swim and other international sports personalities have clustered.

Isn’t Budapest awesome? (Yes.)

Isn’t Katie Ledecky awesome? (Yes.)

Why is the International Olympic Committee seemingly so set on giving the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles?

Aha.

To be clear, the 2024/28 arrangement is not — yet — a done deal. Nothing in life is certain until it is, and as is widely known by now, the IOC has given itself until its next general assembly, September 13, in Lima, Peru, to finalize the double allocation.

A good day for the Olympics: Mr. Bach goes to the White House

A good day for the Olympics: Mr. Bach goes to the White House

You can like Donald Trump. You can not like Donald Trump. To be clear: I did not vote for the gentleman. Whatever. When the president of the United States of America meets with the president of the International Olympic Committee at the White House, that is a good day for the Olympic movement.

Let us all understand the gravity of what happened Thursday. Put emotion aside. Think strategically. What is in the best interest of the Olympic movement, and of the IOC? Answer: having good relations with the governments of the world. Russia is a great country and a great Olympic power. China is a great country and a great Olympic power. But, people, let’s be real.

How is Paris bid like The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

How is Paris bid like The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

PARIS — Taking in the sight of the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday hosting the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission along with the Paris 2024 bid team, you could almost hear the soundtrack playing from the 1975 cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Let’s do the time warp again, people.

It’s like the Paris 2024 people think it’s 2005 and they are having a group therapy session over the loss to London for 2012 and re-playing the things their predecessors did wrong and trying, 12 years later, to make it right.

Who's got next, Mme. Hidalgo?

Who's got next, Mme. Hidalgo?

Dear Mme. Hidalgo:

In American pick-up basketball, we have an expression: who’s got next?

On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron took office as French president. Surely in recent days you noticed how M. Macron was out front in expressing support to the International Olympic Committee for the Paris 2024 project. Just guessing here since you and he have had what might be described as a frosty relationship: you must have been thinking to yourself — dude, really?

Straight talk from SoCal on 2024: it's LA's time

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Dear friends around the world,

Hi from Los Angeles! It has been raining a lot here this winter, which is cool, because we need the water. That drought and everything. We got lucky Thursday morning. It was cool but dry — well, actually cold for us, about 56 degrees Fahrenheit, puffy down jacket weather unless you were dancing — as the local bid committee held a mellow, only-in-California sunrise party at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to mark the coming of the third and final phase of the International Olympic Committee’s campaign for the 2024 Olympics.

They lit the Coliseum cauldron, just like Rafer Johnson did in 1984. This being 2017 and a 2024 thing, there was electronic dance music along with before-dawn fitness, a little sunrise volleyball and, 'cuz this is SoCal, some ginger shots to promote your most excellent vibe and good health. Yo, dude. All good.

Daybreaking in red, white and blue style

Peace and love and the Olympics, people

So along with the mellow, everyone, this third and final phase marks an occasion, and here we have to shift gears, for some serious straight talk. Sure, the scene Thursday at the Coliseum was crunchy groovy and for sure Santa Monica can be, like, zany, and Venice, like, wacky, but, you know, we can be dead serious here, too.

And the time is now to be straight-up.

First, the disclaimer: I have lived in Los Angeles since the end of 1992. If you want to think this column amounts to nothing but a homer talking, go right ahead — there’s likely nothing I can say or do to change your mind and, honestly, I’m not even going to try because that kind of thing gets tiresome. To be abundantly clear: I have no connection, zero, with the LA24 bid committee. We have a normal professional relationship. That’s it.

Here is the truth: I have covered every Olympic bid campaign since 1999. It is crystal clear what is at stake. That is why I was the first journalist, in March 2015, to say that the U.S. Olympic Committee had made an inexplicably bad initial choice for 2024 in Boston and needed, as soon as possible, to get back to LA. Which, later in the year, it did.

So what is at stake?

The Olympic movement, meaning in particular the International Olympic Committee, is at a critical inflection point.

Over the past 20 years, Games costs have become not just gigantic but obscene. In turn, the number of countries — in particular western democracies — willing to spend millions on the chance to win an Olympics has all but evaporated. 

Bottom line: the IOC is facing a grave credibility problem.

This credibility problem makes for a serious threat to the vitality if not the relevance of the movement.

This 2024 race thus offers the IOC a chance to re-calibrate.

The only — again, the only — way the IOC can emerge a winner, however, is if it goes to LA.

At prior moments in its history, in 1984 and 1932, the IOC has faced similar turning points. At these junctures, it also went to Los Angeles. Now, again, for 2024 it must come once more to California.

One more thing, please: this column will take a few minutes to read. No way around it. That's the way straight talk sometimes has to be.

We get that maybe you don't understand us Americans

Even way out here in California, watching the sun set drop each day into the blue Pacific, we get that you maybe don’t understand us Americans.

We get that here in the United States we are surrounded by oceans and just two other countries and our time zones are far away from pretty much everyone else’s and soccer is really not even much of a thing. We even call it soccer, not football. Football is something entirely different here, and we have a super big game, more or less an unofficial national holiday, coming up Sunday.

We get that the way we measure distance and temperature and all that — it’s different (if you’re wondering: 56 degrees F is 13 degrees C, more or less).

We get that you love our movies and our music and especially our money, like when NBC pays $7.65 billion for the U.S. rights to televise the Olympic Games from 2020 through 2032.

Remember, I said this was going to be really straight-up.

In that spirit, we get that sometimes you don’t really like us very much. We’re Americans and for some reason we like ice in our drinks, like a lot of ice, and for many if not most of you that’s just weird.

We get all that.

In the spirit of gentle and constructive suggestion: you, wherever you are, just have to like us enough right now to give Los Angeles the 2024 Summer Games.

For that matter, the very thing that a lot of you have (in some cases defiantly) held against us for many years — that our governments, local, state and federal, are not underwriting the LA bid — is, in fact, this bid’s strongest asset. That’s because we are American and we do it differently here.

We even get that our new president is like no one you have maybe ever seen before on the world stage. A lot of us didn’t vote for him, especially in California. Mrs. Clinton won the state by 61-33 percent.

We, too, get that Donald Trump is different. You don’t have to like him, either, though to be honest, you might, because he and Vladimir Putin over in Russia seem to get along just fine, and most of you members seem to get along just fine with Mr. Putin’s Olympic vision.

At any rate, Mr. Trump is the president of the United States. And behind the scenes, President Trump has already made it very well known that he wants Los Angeles to win.

This 2024 race, at its core, is — and always has been, from Day One — a referendum on the United States.

Not per se on President Trump.

Again, you have to like us just enough to get to yes. Because, as ever, we will save your bacon.

You may not like hearing or reading that. But, again, it's straight-up time.

Revisiting history, or why the IOC's bacon is in the deep fryer

Here is why the IOC’s bacon is shriveling in the deep fryer, and apologies for the lengthy recitation, but this is the context that makes plain why it must — repeat, must — be LA for 2024:

Athens 2004:

After-Games cost estimates ran to $11 to $15 billion. Security costs for the first post-9/11 Summer Games ran up the numbers significantly. The years since have been punctuated by pictures of the Olympic venues in sorrowful disrepair.

Beijing 2008:

$40 billion, all-in. Nobody really knows. Accounting transparency is not a thing in China, at least for international consumption.

London 2012:

Roughly $15 billion, including infrastructure costs.

Sochi 2014:

A reported $51 billion.

$51 billion?! This is what you get when, like the children of Israel in the Exodus story who built the cities of Pithom and Ramses for the Egyptian Pharaoh, you build two cities literally from the ground up. For the 2014 Winter Games, the Russians built Adler (the ice venues, a few miles away from Sochi itself) and, up in the mountains, Krasnaya Polyana (ski, snowboard, biathlon), from scratch.

Add in some roads, rail lines, electricity, sewage, water and whatever else figures in to the cost of doing business in Russia and there you have it, the reported $51 billion.

Rio 2016:

In December, nearly four months after the closing ceremony in Brazil, the IOC floated a new tagline for South America’s first Olympics: “the most imperfect perfect Games.”

Ha! Here is perhaps a more direct insight, courtesy of Bill the Cat, one of the main characters in “Bloom County,” which in 1987 won Berkeley Breathed the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. Bill pretty much says one thing, and one thing only, in reviewing the many obviously perplexing developments in our crazy world:

“Ack.”

A brief Rio review: did the thousands of us in attendance endure Zika or water poisoning or get mugged in the streets? Largely, no.

Then again, that’s a pretty low bar.

The IOC expects in the coming weeks to release figures showing that the Rio operational budget would come in close to the originally estimated figure, $2.9 billion.

So what?

That number, even if accurate, is both misleading and irrelevant.

When Brazil bid for the Games in 2009, it presented an all-in budget to the IOC of $14.4 billion — operations and infrastructure.

When the Games were awarded to Rio, the Brazilian economy was going great guns. By 2016, the economy had tanked. The government said it would backstop the project. Problem: the government ran out of money.

The final Rio number remains fuzzy. A reasonable estimate: maybe $20 billion.

Tokyo 2020:

Scary budget! Scary like one of those bad black-and-white Godzilla movies from back in the day!

Tokyo won the Games in 2013 promising an all-in budget of roughly $7.8 billion.

Last September, a local review panel said drastic changes had to be made or the whole thing might cost, ah, $30 billion. That would be roughly four times as much as $7.8 billion.

In December, the IOC said it could not, would not accept a revised budget of $20 billion.

Beijing 2022:

See $40 billion, above, and an appreciation of the accounting skills of our Chinese friends, who must, after winning the Games in 2015, build a high-speed rail line from the capital, where the air pollution could choke a duck, up to the mountains two hours away, where there is barely snow but they are nonetheless going to hold the alpine events there because, well, because.

At any rate, the Chinese — having learned from their Russian friends — are not going to count the costs of the railway in their Olympic accounting. Which both in the official records as well as media such as this will, you know, keep reporting of the costs down.

This brings us, naturally enough, to 2024.

But wait.

In December 2014, the IOC passed a 40-point series of purported reforms championed by Thomas Bach, the German elected president the year before, a good number of the 40 aimed at the bid process. The package goes by the name “Agenda 2020.”

The Agenda 2020 vote came amid the 2022 Winter Games bid campaign. That 2022 campaign made it abundantly clear how flawed, if not irretrievably broken, the bid process stands.

Six would-be bid cities in Europe dropped out of the 2022 campaign, five put off to varying degrees by the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Winter Games: Oslo, Munich, Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz and Krakow, Poland. A sixth, Lviv, Ukraine, fell out because of war.

That left Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The members went for Beijing.

The 2024 race formally began in September 2015, with five cities: Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany. In a conference call as it launched, Bach said he looked forward to the race, calling it a “very, very strong and fascinating one.”

But wait.

On the very day it began, in this space, I offered these words:

“Would anyone be surprised, really, if as soon as six months from now, this 2024 race is already down to three?

“Or, when it comes to legitimate contenders, practically speaking, two?”

November 2015: Hamburg drops out. Residents vote against hosting the Games.

September/October 2016: Rome, after weeks of dithering, drops out, too, the mayor saying the city has other priorities.

February 2017: in Budapest the locals are gathering increasing numbers of signatures for a referendum as well, so many signatures that the bid is delaying what would have been Friday’s start of its international promotional strategy. It’s unclear when — if — any promotional activity will begin.

That leaves, then, practically speaking, two: Paris and LA.

LA and Paris are both fine cities. But any reasonable observer can see that the Olympic bid process needs a fix.

"Casablanca," Bogart and Bergman are swell but we're taking 2024

All of us will always have Paris.

But Paris is not what the Olympic space needs right now.

What it needs — what Bach needs, what the IOC needs — is for Agenda 2020 to be more than just so much more than lip-service if not outright BS.

Remember: straight up.

As much as this 2024 race is a referendum on the United States, it is almost as much a referendum on Bach, and his ability to deliver on his vision.

Make no mistake: that is why he made a trip last year to California, and in particular to Silicon Valley. He knows all too well that young people are immersed in their phones and screens and the IOC needs to figure out how to merge that world with sport to keep the Olympic Games relevant with the world’s teens and 20-somethings.

This is why, right now, out of the 40 points in Agenda 2024, there’s one — one — that so far has proven meaningful, and that's the launch of the Olympic Channel. This is why there's urgency in linking the 2024 campaign to Agenda 2020.

Back to Paris for the purpose of getting the sentiment out of the way, and quickly.

Paris played host to the 1924 Games; 2024 would be 100 years later.

The IOC, though, is not in the anniversary business. Ask Athens. It sought 1996 after 1896. Those Games went to Atlanta.

The thing about Paris, and sentiment: I lived there for a summer and have been privileged since to visit several times. I have gone for early morning runs down the Champs-Élysées, looping across the Seine and around the Eiffel Tower. Memories. I get it. Totally.

Typically, a major factor in these IOC bid campaigns is where the members’ spouses would like to be for 17 days. There’s a cogent argument to be made that, you know, you could find worse places to be for nearly three weeks than Paris.

But maybe not when the entire nation of France has been under a “state of emergency” since 2015 and anxieties are high at even the most senior levels of government over the risk of another terror attack. Or when one of the attacks was directed at the national stadium in suburban Saint Denis that would be the emotional center of a 2024 Games.

To be truthful, security matters, and it may matter a lot in deciding 2024, but the IOC must itself confront an issue more under its own control.

Take a moment, please, to re-read those dollar figures: $51 billion for Sochi 2014, $40 billion for Beijing 2008, probably $20 million for Rio 2016, an advertised $7-plus billion for Tokyo 2020 already up to maybe $30 billion with the IOC insisting that $20 billion just won’t do.

Take another look at all the cities that have dropped out for 2022 and 2024.

This is why, all around the world, the IOC has a huge or, if you prefer, bigly credibility problem.

Bids want to say, we can do the job for x. Seven years later, reality check: the cost is x-plus-plus-plus and in western democracies there’s taxpayer freak-out, and understandably and appropriately.

LA 2024 is the turnkey solution to the IOC’s credibility problem.

Emotion and math equal LA24

That LA24 is the turnkey answer is so obvious. That solution is rooted in both emotion and logic. Or, if you prefer, emotion and math.

Math:

The LA24 budget calls for $5.3 billion of revenue and costs, with a $491.9 million contingency stash.

With the exception of a slalom canoe venue (no big deal), everything is built. The bid gets the use of an about-to-be-built, privately funded $3-billion stadium for the NFL’s Rams and Chargers. Southern California is — Olympics or no — in the midst of a massive public transit upgrade, with $88 billion in ongoing public transit investment as well as a $14 billion modernization of LAX (thank the lord) in addition to $120 billion in funding that LA County voters (me among them) approved in November.

Read that last bit again: $120 billion in transit funding that’s happening without reference to the Olympics. 

The Paris 2024 people say, ”95 percent of our venues will be existing or temporary facilities.”

Indeed, as Table 22, “Venue Funding and Development,” in Part 2 of its Candidature File delivered last October to the IOC makes clear, the Paris 24 bid calls for just three new items to be built.

The catch is that these three items are, with the exception of what would be the Olympic Stadium itself — standing, as noted above — pretty much the most expensive things there could possibly be:

A new athletes’ village. A new media village. And a new aquatics palace, for swimming, synchro and diving.

Just to take the last of those three:

With all due respect to friends at the international swim federation, which goes by the acronym FINA, a new structure for swim sports, even if not really a "palace," is gonna cost a ton of money and be about the most unsustainable venue you might ever want to build.

There are two events in which you draw sustainable numbers of people (that is, say, 15,000 or more)  to watch swimming: the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Games. OK, maybe three: perhaps the evening finals of the FINA world championships, and then if someone like Michael Phelps is on the blocks.

Get back to me if the U.S. Trials are going to be in Paris in 2024.

This elemental math is why USA Swimming has, for its last three Trials, plunked a temporary pool in an already-built basketball arena in Omaha, Nebraska.

This is why FINA, at its last worlds, in 2015 in Kazan, Russia, plunked a temporary pool inside a soccer — er, football — stadium.

This is why the LA24 plan is to plunk a temporary pool on a baseball field at the University of Southern California.

This is why the LA24 bid abandoned its initial plan to build a new (would have cost $1-billion) athletes’ village in downtown LA in favor of (already there) dorms at UCLA.

Our French friends might say, OK, but the government guarantees the costs, and we promise to keep them down.

Of course.

They say the Paris 2024 infrastructure budget would be 3 billion euros, about $3.2 billion USD at current exchange rates.

Of that 3 billion euros, they say, the national government would pony up 1 billion; the city of Paris, 145 million; the Paris regional government another 145 million; the region of Seine-Saint Denis 135 million. That totals 1.425 billion euros.

The remaining funds — easy math, 1.575 billion euros — is, according to Paris 2024, “already secured and guaranteed by various other public authorities and institutions.”

For purposes of discussion, let’s take our French friends at their word.

Here, though, is the lesson from prior Games that are not the model of Los Angeles 1984 — that is, that are not privately run and that depend in part or, more likely, in significant measure on government dollars, as a Paris 2024 Games would, and this is why the IOC needs Los Angeles now and not Paris.

As London 2012 and Rio 2016 proved and Tokyo 2020 is proving again, if the government is a democracy and not a more authoritative if not autocratic institution — think China or Russia — commitments change. 

It may be worthy of an academic or journalistic panel in these early days of 2017 to have a discussion about what is a “fact” and what makes for the “truth,” but it is a damn fact and that is the straight-up truth: commitments change.

That is what the past 20 years have proven, and unequivocally.

The consequence of that fact and that truth is the follow-on taxpayer freak-out.

There is the equation.

That equation needs to be broken.

That's what a private-sector bid like Los Angeles — in 2024 just as in 1984 — does. 

In LA, 2024, 1984, math is math.

What does that mean?

It means, simply, the math is certain. There is no other option because there is no government money. For taxpayers, that means there is no risk of having to siphon off monies that would otherwise be designated for, say, some social service.

Thus: no freak-out.

The LA24 plan says $5.3 billion. It will be $5.3 billion.

Actually, costs probably won’t even reach $5.3 billion. They probably will total less. And the “fact” is, which the bid committee can’t say for political reasons but this space can because it’s patently obvious: the Summer Games haven’t been in the United States since 1996 in Atlanta, which means pent-up sponsor demand. That means all involved are virtually certain to make tons of money.

IOC friends, to reiterate: all involved are likely to make money instead of reading bitter news reports about overruns and deficits.

Again, even if you might be inclined not to like us Americans all that much, everyone can get behind certainty and surplus.

Relevance is good

Which brings us to the next element:

Along with certainty and surplus, you also get everything that makes California, the world's sixth-largest economy, so relevant. The IOC’s No. 1 objective is to be relevant with young people. What, especially, do they like? Tech and media. That’s why the IOC launched the Channel. California means tech and media like nowhere else. Here, then, is the opportunity to combine tech and media with sport. So obvious.

Hollywood. Facebook. Apple. Snapchat. Google. Twitter.

These companies and industries, genuinely, want to get involved. Why? An Olympics in Los Angeles in 2024 would not only be prestigious, interesting and unusual. It’s a vehicle though which these companies could reach literally billions of people. In Olympic speak — they could grow not just the IOC brand but, as well, the individual sports themselves that make up the Olympic Games.

Straight up: it's not just the companies and industries of California but the people of LA who would like to have you. Like nine of 10 say, yay for the Olympics! In a democracy, those numbers are all but unheard-of. 

More, and IOC friends: you really do want to be on Mr. Trump's good side. Because if you turn down Los Angeles after dinging Chicago for 2016 and New York — Mr. Trump’s kind of town — for 2012, it really might not go so well for you. This means you and the IOC itself.

Just something to think about.

While you wonder why we like ice so much. We're different. Different doesn't need to be better or worse. Just different. 

By 2024, it will have been 28 years since Atlanta, 40 since the last time you were at the Coliseum like the daybreakers were at sunrise on Thursday.

Straight up: it’s time to come to California. Dude, kind of a no-brainer, really.

The disconnect between Mr. Obama's actions, and his beautiful words

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The 44th president of the United States ends his term this week, succeeded by the 45th, and in a ceremony Monday at the White House honoring Major League Baseball's 2016 World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, Barack Obama proved his usual eloquent self in describing sport’s distinct role in American — indeed, global — society.

What’s now up to history to judge when it comes to sport is the demonstrable disconnect between Mr. Obama’s eloquence and his actions. Arguably no president in American history, none all the way back to George Washington, has been as disruptive as Mr. Obama.

Particularly in the sphere of international sport.

There can be no question, none whatsoever, that Mr. Obama talks a good game. On Monday, for instance, in the august East Room of the White House, jammed with dignitaries and Cubs fans alike, many in jerseys and caps, the president was funny, captivating, moving and profound, all of it, in a 20-minute address.

Referring to his campaign slogan in 2008 and the Cubs’ World Series drought, which would ultimately extend to 108 years before the Cubs last fall defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Mr. Obama said Monday: “… Even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the World Series.  But I did say that there's never been anything false about hope.  

Everyone laughed and applauded as he added, “Hope — the audacity of hope.”

The president, a longtime fan of the Chicago White Sox, the 2005 World Series champs from the city's South Side, went on to say:

“All you had to know about this team was encapsulated in that one moment in Game 5,” meaning the World Series, “down three games to one, do or die, in front of the home fans when [the catcher] David Ross and [the pitcher] Jon Lester turned to each other and said, “I love you, man."  And he said, "I love you, too.”  It was sort of like an Obama-Biden moment,” a reference to the vice president, Joseph Biden, Jr.  

Later, referring to the Cubs’ victory parade: “Two days later, millions of people -- the largest gathering of Americans that I know of in Chicago. And for a moment, our hometown becomes the very definition of joy.”

And, finally:

“So just to wrap up, today is, I think, our last official event — isn’t it? — at the White House under my presidency. And it also happens to be a day that we celebrate one of the great Americans of all time, Martin Luther King, Jr. And later, as soon as we're done here, Michelle and I are going to go over and do a service project, which is what we do every year to honor Dr. King. And it is worth remembering — because sometimes people wonder, well, why are you spending time on sports, there's other stuff going on — that throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together, even when the country is divided. Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but that ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we were. It is a game and it is celebration, but there's a direct line between Jackie Robinson,” the first African-American major league baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947, “and me standing here. There's a direct line between people loving Ernie Banks,” the Cubs star from 1953-71, “and the city being able to come together and work together in one spirit.  

“I was in my hometown of Chicago on Tuesday, for my farewell address, and I said, ‘Sometimes it's not enough just to change the laws, you’ve got to change hearts.’ And sports has a way, sometimes, of changing hearts in a way that politics or business doesn’t. And sometimes it's just a matter of us being able to escape and relax from the difficulties of our days, but sometimes it also speaks to something better in us. And when you see this group of folks of different shades and different backgrounds, and coming from different communities and neighborhoods all across the country, and then playing as one team and playing the right way, and celebrating each other and being joyous in that, that tells us a little something about what America is and what America can be.

“So it is entirely appropriate that we celebrate the Cubs today, here in this White House, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday because it helps direct us in terms of what this country has been and what it can be in the future."

These are, genuinely, lovely and moving sentiments. Thank you, Mr. President.

Did Mr. Obama’s administration prove true to those sentiments?

During most of his two terms, it can be argued, Mr. Obama — or by way of extension, deputies in his executive branch — used sports to project the full power and authority of the United States, both by way of action and, in the case of the president himself, omission. The government ranged far afield in projecting distinctly American notions of equality and morality in sports, some of the very values Mr. Obama said Monday "America can be," though it remains far from clear the roughly 200 other nations in the world can or should be like the United States, or want to be. The U.S. government pushed its views of the law in the anti-doping arena. And, of course, though there had been no cry to do so, the U.S. government saw fit to deputize itself to police international soccer.

Was this all triggered by the International Olympic Committee’s emphatic rejection of Mr. Obama in 2009?

Recently having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the president went to Copenhagen that October to lobby for Chicago, his hometown, then bidding for the 2016 Summer Games. Chicago failed to make it out of the first round, fourth of four, losing to Rio. Madrid and Tokyo were also in the race.

"Other than people who like to cheer, 'We're No. 4! We're No. 4!' I don't know how this is anything but really embarrassing," Republican strategist Rich Galen told CNN at the time, adding that Obama's failed pitch would “probably be the joke on Capitol Hill for weeks to come.”

Had Mr. Obama ever before suffered a defeat, indeed a rejection, so intense and so personal? Was it that Mr. Obama was himself stung? Or was it his longtime, and protective, aide, Valerie Jarrett? Or both? Or others in the president's close circle as well?

Seven-plus years ago, the president played off Chicago’s Olympic loss. He said it was “always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States.”

His real feelings may have emerged in an interview published this past October in New York magazine:

“So we fly out there. Subsequently, I think we’ve learned that [the] IOC’s decisions are similar to FIFA’s decisions: a little bit cooked. We didn’t even make the first cut, despite the fact that, by all the objective metrics, the American bid was the best.”

As anyone who has spent the better part of a lifetime in politics can attest, “objective metrics” often mean nothing. Same for just four hours around the IOC, which is how long Mr. Obama was on the ground in Copenhagen that October morning. How could the president of the United States not have known that?

And what has been the fallout since?

— 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016: Olympics, Winter and Summer. Four editions of the Olympics during Mr. Obama's two terms, four opportunities to make an appearance, two — in Canada in 2010, the United Kingdom in 2012 — in countries as close and friendly to American interests as they might get, hockey rivalries or words like “trunk” and “boot” aside. Mr. Obama shows in none of the four. (Michelle Obama went to London.) Compare: President Bush attended the 2002 Salt Lake and 2008 Beijing Games. President Clinton made the 1996 Atlanta and Hillary Clinton the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

— September 2013: Thomas Bach is elected IOC president. Since, Mr. Bach has met more than 100 heads of government and state. But not Mr. Obama. In October 2015, Mr. Bach and most everyone in senior Olympic leadership traveled to Washington for a conference. Mr. Obama did not deem it worthy of his time. Late in the event, Mr. Biden — clearly pressured to show up on behalf of the administration — made a seven-minute cameo.

— February 2014: Mr. Obama, in response to a Russian anti-gay propaganda law, decides to try to stick it to his friends in the Kremlin by sending to the Sochi Games U.S. delegations for the opening and closing ceremonies that include a number of gay athletes, including the tennis star Billie Jean King. Why a tennis star, even one as superlative as Ms. King, ought to be featured at a Winter Games event is yet to be explained.

Mr. Bach said in opening the Sochi Olympics, in a shot at Mr. Obama, “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the back of the athletes.”

— 2015, FIFA indictments. This is not to say that there wasn’t wrongdoing on multiple levels in and around the international soccer scene. The relevant question for history is otherwise. Outside the World Cup, soccer is far from baseball, basketball and especially football in the United States. And by far the majority of those accused have not been American citizens. The Justice Department, when it brings an explosive case such as this, does so to score political points as much to make a case in court. So: why so important for the FBI, IRS and the Attorney General of the United States herself to make this a federal matter?

— May 2016: federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, from the U.S. Attorney’s office serving what’s called the Eastern District of New York, have opened an investigation into allegations of doping by top Russian athletes, the New York Times reports. For those keeping score at home: Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, used to head that Brooklyn office. For those further keeping score: this is the same Justice Department that brought cases sparked by allegations of doping against the likes of baseball stars Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, couldn’t seal the deal, but now believes considerable taxpayer resource is well spent pursuing Russians?

President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has already spoken by phone with Mr. Bach, expressing support for the Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Games. Paris and Budapest are also in the race. The IOC will pick the 2024 site in September at an assembly in Lima, Peru.

Mr. Trump takes office on Friday. For sure, he has a range of priorities to pick from. If he decides that one of them is making new friends, and fast, in international sports, he could make it plain to his pick for attorney general, the current U.S. senator Jeff Sessions, the Republican from Alabama, that the Brooklyn investigation ought to be dropped, and fast.

Like, why is the United States government interested in doping by Russian athletes?

Especially an administration directed by Mr. Trump, who has shown little to less than zero interest in pursuing allegations the Russians might have played an active role in pre-election hacking?

Mr. Trump wasn’t at the White House Monday. Not his moment. But in the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, here nonetheless was a little slice of America as it is right now: Todd Ricketts, Mr. Trump's pick for deputy commerce secretary, stood to one side of Mr. Obama while on the other stood Mr. Ricketts' sister, Laura, who during the campaign raised significant funds for Mrs. Clinton.

This past summer, as he was heading off to vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, the remote Cape Cod locale, Mr. Obama, with a nod to Mr. Trump, had this to say as the Rio Games were just about to get underway:

“In a season of intense politics, let’s cherish this opportunity to come together around one flag.”

And:

“In a time of challenge around the world, let’s appreciate the peaceful competition and sportsmanship we’ll see, the hugs and high-fives and the empathy and understanding between rivals who know we share a common humanity.”

Beautiful words. But — just that. Just words.

What's really what: from Doha, LA's why

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In the aftermath of last week’s U.S. presidential elections, the news has been filled with, among other things, journalistic autopsies: how did so much of the media miss something so obvious?

Same Tuesday in a different political arena — the race for the 2024 Summer Games, and the first presentations by the three bid cities to significant numbers of International Olympic Committee members amid a meeting in Doha, Qatar, of the 205-member Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest got their 20 minutes apiece, and the focus afterward in media accounts from all over was on the LA presentation and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

Evoking the same regrettable horse-race style coverage that dominated the election reporting, that made for “news” tied to the first major Olympic gathering since last Tuesday’s balloting.

So what? It had nothing to do with what really happened.

Be sure key Olympic officials, and others with a sense of the dynamics of bid-city campaigns, understand this all too well.

Every Olympic bid has to have two essential qualities — how and why.

LA on Tuesday put forward its why.

A little background first about the how:

— There’s nothing in memory like the LA how. With the IOC confronting widespread dissatisfaction in Europe and Asia over the ballooning costs of the Games, the LA proposal is simple: with the exception of a canoe venue, everything else is or will be built in a city already alive with dynamism, downtown in particular exploding with construction cranes. That means no crazy infrastructure costs.

Atop the spire that's now the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, Korean Air's $1.2 billion Wilshire Grand // Korean Air

Mayor Eric Garcetti at a recent event, the LA Times building in the background // Gary Leonard

— Further, LA mayor Eric Garcetti is a real person. He for sure is one smart dude. He also is personable and relatable. A recent picture of the mayor on a skateboard is surely a first in the history of Olympic campaigns.

For LA, how was thus always the easy part.

The hard part, seemingly: the why. On Tuesday, the LA people made that easy, too, and by taking on the really hard stuff:

America is not perfect. Far from it. The Games — they can help.

To expand:

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Most came willingly. A significant number, not. We are all in this together, the LA bid made plain Tuesday — a connection with the very essence of the Olympic message in our world.

An African-American athlete, Allyson Felix, the most decorated U.S. female track and field star in Olympic history, offered up real talk Tuesday, no spin, about the most vexing dilemma that has been at the core of the American experience from the beginning.

Allyson Felix at the lectern // ANOC and LA 24

Here is the gist of her remarks and because they are of such import, at some length:

“I’m here,” she said, “to talk about America.

“I want to tell you about the America that I love, and the America that needs the Games to help make our nation better — now, more than ever.

“America is diverse. We are a nation of people whose descendants came from all over the world for a better life. 

“But we’re also a nation with individuals like me — descendants of people who came to America not of their own free will but against it. 

“But we’re not a nation that clings to our past, no matter how glorious – or how painful. Americans rush towards the future.

“We just finished our presidential election, and some of you may question America’s commitment to its founding principles. 

“I have one message for you: please don't doubt us. America’s diversity is our greatest strength.

“Diversity is not easy.

“Diversity is a leap of faith — that embraces all faiths. 

“And that’s why I believe LA is a perfect choice for the 2024 Games, because the face of our city reflects the face of the Olympic movement itself.”

This had — correction, has — zero to do with Trump.

Yes, Felix acknowledged the election.

No, she did not mention Trump.

If Felix had wanted to say the words “president-elect” or “Trump,” she surely could and would have. How do you know this?

Because from among dozens of Olympic bids over the past 20 years, there have been a grand total of two that have cut the BS and told the members straight-up what was what. If you really insist on U.S. presidential politics, to borrow from John McCain and 2008 — the Straight Talk Express.

The first such bid: Almaty, two years ago, which straightforwardly made its case for the 2022 Winter Games, losing narrowly to Beijing.

And, now, LA.

If Garcetti — a political veteran — had wanted to mention Trump, he too surely could have. Instead, Garcetti said:

“… What I’m going to say is a little bit radical, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it from an Olympic bid. 

“We believe our campaign isn’t just about the Games in our city in 2024.  We believe this bid is about ensuring that the Games are sustainable beyond 2024 as well.

“In other words, this bid isn’t only about LA’s future – it’s about our collective future. This is a stark and unique difference about our bid.”

Look, most bids feature warm and fuzzy videos along with officials and politicians talking about kids and dreams and getting a couch filled with kids off that comfy couch. No one says what’s really what. This, not incidentally, is how the IOC got in the mess it’s in now — with cities all over western Europe abandoning Olympic bids for 2022, 2024 and even 2028.

Here is where this column acknowledges one more obvious piece: I live in Los Angeles. But I have no — zero — affiliation with the bid. At the same time, having covered every Olympic campaign since 1999, it's time now to get to it plainly. Here is what's what:

— This 2024 bid is it for Los Angeles and the United States. The time is now. If the IOC opts to go to Paris or Budapest, good luck, and enjoy the run afterward of Games in places like Doha and Baku, because the Europeans are already squeamish, the next three Games are in Asia (2018, 2020, 2022) amid financial and other challenges and the Americans won’t be coming back for a long, long time — not if the IOC were to turn down the three biggest cities in the United States, New York (2012), Chicago (2016) and then, in sequence, LA.

“We have learned many lessons from our previous bids,” USOC board chair Larry Probst said at Tuesday’s meeting, “and failure can be a great teacher.”

— Unlike in other nations, an American bid has no government money. None. It must all be privately funded. With that in mind, there is no chance — zero — that Casey Wasserman, the LA bid leader, can go back to the assorted business leaders who in just a few days donated the likes of $35 million toward this 2024 effort and gin up enthusiasm for another round.

— Oh, and if LA gets dinged, good luck with sponsor and broadcast interest going forward, too.

These things are by no means threats. There’s no gauntlet. But unless we are all willing — together — to speak, and hear, the truth, the IOC and Olympic movement assume serious if not critical danger of losing their relevance.

That is the real news from Tuesday in Doha.

When he was 13, Garcetti told the ANOC assembly on Tuesday, the 1984 Olympics came to LA. Here is what he said next, and again at length, because these words are not just heartfelt — they need to be heard:

“I saw the face of the world on the streets of Los Angeles and I became a believer in the power of the Olympic movement to transform the world. 

“I still believe that today, more than ever. My first act as mayor on my first day serving,” three years ago, “was to write a letter to the IOC to pursue the 2024 Games.

“My vision of America is a country that is informed by that vision.

“I see an America that is outward-looking, ready to play its role alongside the community of nations to address our world’s most pressing challenges.

“Choose LA 2024 and help us show a new generation of Americans that our strength is being with the world, not turning our backs to it.”

An open letter: the White House delegation to Rio

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President Barack Obama

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

August 2, 2016

Dear Mr. President:

Coming up on three years ago, I wrote you an “open letter” critical of your decision to send to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games an official White House delegation that did not include yourself, the First Lady, the vice president nor, indeed, any member of your cabinet.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will head the White House delegation to the Rio 2016 Summer Games.

Mr. President, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I respect you personally as well as the office you hold. I voted for you twice. If I could, I would vote for you again this November. I believe history will treat you kindly — that, with time, you will come to be seen as what you truly are and have been, one of our greatest presidents in more than 200 years.

With all that said, sir:

Please permit me the opportunity to address you in another “open letter,” mindful that I am grateful to call home a country where I may give voice to criticisms and that, as well, any such criticisms relate solely to matters of policy. In no way are they personal.

Time shows how we all change over seven years: President Obama in 2009 addressing the IOC on behalf of Chicago's 2016 bid // Getty Images

The tennis star Billie Jean King at the Sochi 2014 men's ice-hockey bronze medal game //

The announcement that Secretary Kerry will lead the 2016 delegation underscores the futility and hypocrisy inherent in what the White House tried to do — with, at best, limited impact — in connection with the Sochi Games.

Can we — you, me, all of us — acknowledge now the truth of the matter?

That what the White House sought in 2014 was to leverage the spotlight of the Olympic Games to exploit the American position in dealing with the Russians, in particular Mr. Putin, while simultaneously expressing considered frustration, if not more, with the International Olympic Committee?

And to what purpose?

The record is plain.

In October 2009, you and the First Lady went to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC for Chicago’s 2016 Summer Games bid.

In retrospect, we can perhaps observe it might be all to the good that Chicago did not win. Imagine, Mr. President, the worldwide media uproar in anticipation of a 2016 Chicago Games over the murder rate in Chicago and, by extension, American gun-control policies. Not to mention the national embarrassment that is Mr. Trump, whom you appropriately described on Tuesday as “unfit” and “woefully unprepared” for the presidency.

At any rate, you went to Copenhagen — the first sitting president, ever, to lobby the IOC in such a fashion.

The members not only awarded the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro, they booted Chicago in the very first round. Tales still circulate within Olympic circles of the IOC members idling on buses while waiting for your security detail to give the all-good to come in to the convention hall.

Since then, the White House’s — by extension, the federal government’s — relationship with the global Olympic movement and, more broadly, international sport, has deteriorated to the point of dreadful, and that is being generous.

Maybe you have forgiven if not forgotten. But it’s something of an open secret that your trusted advisers may hardly have done so.

Who brought the indictments against FIFA? The U.S. Justice Department, headed by Ms. Loretta Lynch. Assuredly, the Attorney General wields considerable latitude in her prosecutorial choices. At the same time, who does the Attorney General report to? That would be you.

Before you named her Attorney General, Ms. Lynch served as U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, for five years heading the office for the Eastern District of New York. This past May, it was the Eastern District that opened an inquiry into allegations of state-sponsored Russian doping — as if a Russian matter should, on some theory, be a matter for American law enforcement.

Imagine, sir, if the tables were turned. The American court system, indeed the federal courts with their limited jurisdiction, are filled with allegations of wrongdoing each and every day. Are the Russians weighing in to impart their view of justice on our behalf? Are they mounting a campaign to convince Americans and others around the world that, for instance, the death penalty, legal in several U.S. states, is illegal it not immoral?

Perhaps there is this: at least you didn’t try to stick it further to the Olympic scene by naming Ms. Lynch to the 2016 delegation. Just Secretary Kerry; the U.S. ambassador to Brazil; three other federal officials, and the swim legend Mark Spitz.

The disregard with which your administration views the Olympic scene could hardly have been more apparent when, last October, the Association of National Olympic Committees held its annual meeting in Washington, just blocks from the White House.

Since becoming the IOC president in 2013, Thomas Bach has met with more than 100 heads of government or state. But, notably, not you.

Indeed, at the Sochi opening ceremony, Mr. Bach, obviously if indirectly referring to you, said the Olympics should not be “used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests.”

Mr. Bach also said in opening the Sochi Games, “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, at the Sochi 2014 opening ceremony // Getty Images

Bach with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Games

Vice president Biden at last October's ANOC meeting // Getty Images

At the ANOC event, no senior U.S. official had the courage to show until several days into the event when — your White House obviously alerted that this show of American defiance might not reflect well on a Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Summer Games — Vice President Biden appeared from behind the curtain.

Mr. Biden stayed for all of seven minutes.

As for LA, and its 2024 contest with Paris, Rome and Budapest: the heads of state or government of France, Italy and Hungary have all said they are coming to Rio for the Games opening ceremony.

But not you.

“It is absolutely normal that participating countries at major events such as the Olympic Games, being organized every four years, are represented by high-level state leaders,” the Hungarian release, issued Tuesday, said. “This is especially true for countries that have bid to host the Olympic Games.”

It’s in this full, indeed rich, context that one has to view the 2014 Sochi White House delegation — as one of a series, since that 2009 Chicago defeat, of provocations.

Perhaps it is the case that the dots don’t connect. But it plainly looks like they do. And we both know this truism: in politics, perception is as important than reality, if not more so.

To be honest, of course, in our popular culture, the Russians make for excellent villains. Think only of Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV," or the bad guys in James Bond movies, or even Boris and Natasha from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

Mr. Putin, right or wrong, fair or not, plays the role for many of the arch-villain of our time.

How easy was it to tap into all that sentiment while amplifying a disregard for the Olympic scene?

The White House said in 2014 that your schedule simply didn’t allow you to travel to Sochi.

This, Mr. President, begs credulity.

The central issue was the controversy that you latched onto sparked by the Russian anti-gay propaganda law. A couple months before the Games, you remarked, “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia.”

For the opening ceremony, you named two openly gay athletes: Billie Jean King, the tennis star, and skating gold medalist Brian Boitano.

A tennis player — at the Winter Olympics?

For the closing, you threw a little more gas on the fire by naming Caitlin Cahow, winner of Olympic silver and bronze medals in ice hockey, another gay athlete, to the closing ceremony delegation.

You might remember that Ms. King ended up going to the closing ceremony; her mother passed away the day of the opening ceremony. Ms. Cahow took part in the opening ceremony.

You might recall, too, that in a commentary for CNN published a few weeks before the 2014 Games, Ms. King had said, in part:

“Is our nation making a statement on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law by sending gay men and women to represent us in Sochi? Perhaps we are.”

Perhaps?

The right answer to Ms. King’s rhetorical question: obviously.

In that same piece, she also said:

“… I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.”

That for sure has not happened. We all have a long way to go. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has since made same-sex marriage the law of our land. But that has hardly triggered a rush in other countries to follow our lead.

Ms. King also said in her piece:

“I have a saying that 98 percent of winning is showing up. So we will show up in Russia. We will support our athletes and cheer them as loudly as possible. And we will keep the equality conversation alive.”

When she got home from her White House-sanctioned Sochi-related activism, Ms. King, in an Associated Press feature, said she would like the IOC to add sexual orientation to the list of protections in its charter and to consider the issue when deciding host countries for future Olympics.

The IOC did add sexual orientation to its list of protections, as part of its Agenda 2020 “reforms” enacted in December 2014. But it would have done so regardless of Ms. King. Or anyone from the United States.

As for the second point: not so much. The IOC competition for the 2022 Winter Games got down to Kazakhstan and China. Neither can boast about its human-rights record. In 2015, the IOC went for Beijing.

And if it were the “equality conversation” that was the true impetus for the composition of the Sochi delegation, Mr. President, that imperative would hold even more validity in connection with Rio and 2016.

As the New York Times reported on July 5, Brazil is arguably the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

Over the past four-plus years, the newspaper reported, citing Grupo Gay de Bahia, an advocacy group, nearly 1,600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks. That means a gay or transgender person is killed almost daily in Brazil.

The Times story quotes the advocacy group’s manager as saying that the numbers represent “only the tip of the iceberg of violence and bloodshed,” since police here often, as the paper reported, “omit anti-gay animus when compiling homicide reports.” An Amnesty International Brazil official, the paper further reported, said, “Homophobic violence has hit crisis levels, and it’s getting worse.”

So much outrage over a Russian propaganda law in the run-up to Sochi 2014 but, in comparison, comparative silence in these weeks and months before Rio 2016 about horrific violence in Brazil?

Mr. President, you proved eloquent, as usual, in decrying the June massacre that took 49 lives at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Yet nothing about the slow, steady and awful rate of homicides in Brazil?

The Olympics are assuredly imperfect. But there is no other institution in our fragile world that offers the very notion you have spent much of your time in office promoting — we are all better when we stand, in peace, together.

With that in mind, please allow me to close with an unsolicited suggestion.

Next year, at an assembly in Lima, Peru, the IOC will decide the 2024 Summer Games site.

By then, you will be out of office. We can all hope that Ms. Clinton — an avid public supporter of the Olympic notion — is your successor. At any rate, if you were to appear in Lima, and once again address the IOC on behalf of an American candidate city, it might be therapeutic all around.

It also could be awesome.

You could even start by saying something like, “Sorry about that last time. I for sure didn’t mean to make you sit around for a few minutes just on my account.” Take it from there, sir. There’s a powerful argument that the world needs what Los Angeles, what California and what our great country can — in service and humility — offer.

As you have proven repeatedly, such humility, as well as considered doses of humor and empathy, can often achieve great things, particularly in the pursuit of pluralism and tolerance. Being strident rarely gets us anywhere.

Thank you, sir, for your attention and consideration. And for your years of leadership. Godspeed.

Sincerely,

Alan Abrahamson

3 Wire Sports

Los Angeles, California

A 4th of July story: Ashton Eaton, the anti-Trump

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EUGENE — On this Fourth of July, when we celebrate America and Americans, here’s to a celebration of the U.S. decathlon champion, Ashton Eaton. Not to put too fine a tag on it but: Ashton Eaton is the anti-Donald Trump.

The very last thing Ashton Eaton would have done after winning — again — the decathlon here at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials would have been to proclaim, “I’m going to Rio and my point total is going to be huuuuuge!”

Nor did he say, “I have very big hands.”

As if.

Trump, as this year’s presidential politics has proven, is divisive, bigoted, obnoxious, loud and polarizing.

Eaton’s greatness, the position he has earned on the public stage, has come without him bragging about how great he is. His actions speak volumes. But when he does talk, he does so with intellect, eloquence, humor and, most important, humility.

Ashton Eaton throwing in the decathlon discus // Getty Images

Moreover, Ashton Eaton isn’t building a wall. He’s building bridges.

Eaton represents the emergence of the multicultural America that Trump, in particular, finds so threatening. Ashton grew up in central Oregon; his father is black, his mother white. As a single mother, Roz Eaton worked several jobs to see after her son, at a law office by day and waitressing at night.

Ashton, 28, and his wife, the Canadian multi-event talent, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, 27, are the model young couple ever mom and dad would like to see their kids grow up to be.

An Eaton story: Ashton and Brianne could drive anything. They drive a white Hyundai Elantra. It gets the job done. There’s no need for more.

The Eatons come by this honestly. It’s not just them. Their coach, Harry Marra, who is one of the most genuine people you might find not just in sports but in any endeavor, drives a 25-year-old white Mazda Miata. “It still looks good, man,” Marra said, laughing.

“It’s a simple statement and I know I have said it a million times,”  Marra said, and referring specifically to Eaton, “Everybody knows he’s a great athlete. But he’s a better human being.”

Another Eaton story: at the Olympics, they stay not in a five-star hotel but in the Olympic Village, he with the Americans, she the Canadians. In London four years ago, he brought her dinner and vice-versa.

Ashton Eaton is the London 2012 decathlon gold medalist. He is the world record-holder in the decathlon, the 10-event discipline that for generations has come to define the world’s best all-around athlete.

In 2012, here at venerable Hayward Field at the 2012 U.S. Trials, Eaton set what was then a decathlon points world record: 9,039.

Last August, at the world championships in Beijing, he upped that to 9,045. He ran the 400 meters in 45 seconds flat.

To give you an idea of how good that is: LaShawn Merritt on Sunday won the open 400 in 43.97.

To further emphasize how good 45-flat that is: Bill Toomey had run the prior fastest decathlon 400: 45.68, in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Bill Toomey!

Eaton, according to the authoritative track and field website Tilastopaja, has the 271st best performance in history in the 400; 147th in the 400-meter hurdles (48.69, in 2014); 191st in the long jump (8.23 meters, or 27 feet, 2012); and 152nd in the 110-meter hurdles (13.35, 2011).

To further amplify Eaton’s excellence in the all-around events, he is the Moscow 2013 world championship gold medalist (8,809 points); the Daegu 2011 world silver medalist; and a three-time world indoor gold medalist in the seven-event heptathlon, 6,470 points in Portland this past March, 6,632 in Sopot, Poland, in 2014 and a world-record 6,645 points in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2012.

It was in Portland that the Eatons, husband and wife, provided one of the sport’s indelible images. After Brianne clinched the pentathlon, Ashton, in his warm-ups amid the long jump competition, bolted onto the track to embrace his wife.

At the Portland 2016 world indoors: Brianne Theisen-Eaton gets a big hug from husband Ashton Eaton moments after she is announced as pentathlon winner // Getty Images for IAAF

For all that he has accomplished, Eaton’s performance over two days in 2016 at Hayward may have been his best ever.

He was not only hurt. He was hurting.

Coming in, he had a quadriceps problem in his left leg. Then the right hamstring started acting up.

The second-day discuss throw — he fouled on his first attempt, threw just 122 feet on No. 2, which was good for 15th, then moved up to 10th on the third throw with a 135-9.

After that, he went second in the pole vault, fourth in the javelin and wrapped it all up with a fourth-place 4:25.15 in the 1500.

Total: 8750 points.

If 8750 wasn’t a world record, well — none of the decathletes heading to Rio, none of them from anywhere in the world, has a personal best that matches what Eaton did here over the weekend.

Jeremy Taiwo took second with 8425, Zach Ziemek third with 8413.

The nature of track and field — with the potential for injury and collision — is that anything can happen, anytime. That was never more evident than on Monday, when two of the favorites in the women’s 800, Brenda Martinez and Alysia Montaño, collided with about 150 meters to go, at roughly 1:36 in the race, Martinez staggering to seventh in 2:06.63, Montaño limping in to eighth about a minute later after picking herself, 3:06.77. At the finish line, she dropped to her knees in tears.

Kate Grace won, in 1:59.1; Ajee’ Wilson got second, 1:59.51; Chrishuna Williams third, 1:59.59.

https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/750130824977100801

“Anything can happen,” Montaño would say later.

She also said of picking herself up off the track with about 150 meters to go, the others far ahead, “You get up and you’re, like, really far away, and your heart breaks.”

Ashton Eaton has been a model of consistency in a discipline in which consistency is everything.

After so many competitions, he said at Sunday’s post-event news conference, “Mentally, I think what happens when you get older is you have more experience,” adding, “If I’m in a situation in a decathlon, I have confidence I can handle it.”

That was the answer to the first question.

The second had to do with competing while injured.

Then, and this is testament to the kind of person Ashton Eaton is, he said, “I’m not answering any more until these guys get some questions.”

Decathletes pose for a group photo after the U.S. Trials // Getty Images

Jeremy Taiwo during the men's 110 hurdles in the decathlon // Getty Images

Zach Ziemek during the decathlon javelin throw // Getty Images

The ladies and gentlemen of the press dutifully asked some questions of Taiwo, who is incredibly thoughtful, and Ziemek, who is super-tough, having done another decathlon at the NCAAs just weeks ago.

“As soon as I crossed the line,” meaning at the final 1500, Taiwo said, “I remembered all those times: this is the hardest journey you’ve ever had. This is a deciding moment in your life, at 26. You know, you’ve had to beg, you’ve had to do this, you’ve wanted to give you, you’ve wanted to not go to practice — just go work at Whole Foods or something, because this hurts.

“Being a decathlete all year round — what are you doing? How are you going to pay for this? Just all that in my mind — I was so grateful.”

When the questioning turned back to Eaton, he was asked about the two charities — Right to Play and World Vision — to which he and his wife donate their time.

“For us, as a young couple to be put in a situation where you get to help someone — that’s pretty powerful stuff.

“The first experience these organizations gave us, what kind of I guess power we have in that area, was pretty emotional. So we feel really strongly about those organizations and organizations in general.”

He paused, choosing his words carefully: “As athletes, you really see a lot of — the Instagram paradigm, where it’s just, ‘Me, me, me, me, me.’ But when you realize [the alternative]: ‘Give, give, give, give’ — it’s very interesting.” Here, he worked hard to control his emotion: “It’s good.”

Eaton was asked, too, the obvious question: what can be done to get the decathlon back to the immensely popular event it once was?

“I think the question to ask is why was it so popular before and what happened to make it fade?

“But — I have noticed things in general tend to follow, like, an up-and-down trend. Perhaps in four years you’ll see decathlon being popular for some unknown reason. And for some unknown reason it started becoming unpopular a while ago.

“I’m not sure what to do to make in order to make it more popular. I think the media tend to have a lot of say in what gets promoted or not. So maybe if you guys — I don’t know. I don’t want to say anything right now but I feel like we train really hard to perform really well. We set ourselves to really high standards. Athletes are always set to super-high standards. What standards are the media setting for themselves? What is it like when you guys compete? Or do you compete at all? It’s an interesting question, a great question.”

The murmur from the assembled press: my friend, have you seen the economic upheaval in our business?

Eaton laughed: “You’re broke, too. So there it is.”

One final Eaton story.

Not content on Sunday with having to answer or forward questions, he decided to play guest moderator, too — another way to direct the spotlight onto the others who, it should be emphasized, had just made the Olympic team, too.

Turning to Taiwo and Ziemek next to him, Eaton asked, “Did you know, like in your mind, did you have the possibility that I could possibly do this? And is there any way you can articulate a possibility becoming a reality?”

Here is the mark of a truly great champion. He brings out the best in those around him.

“To be able to do it,” Ziemek said, “shows how much work I was able to put in and, I mean, doing a decathlon is so great because anything can happen.”

“I think that last statement that Zach made is one that stays in your mind,” Taiwo said. “In a decathlon, anything can happen. After the first day, I felt like, hey, this is going really well. But I still have five more events tomorrow. So I can’t get ahead of myself.

“There are ups and downs. And everybody knows Dan O’Briens’s story for trying to make the 1992 team, in Barcelona. You can be the best athlete in the world, and set the world record later but if you don’t perform at these Trials, the American Trials — these people are the best athletes in the world.”

O’Brien famously failed at the 1992 Trials to clear the bar on all three of his attempts at the pole vault; he didn’t make the team. He would come back to win Olympic decathlon gold at the Atlanta 1996 Games.

“You’ve got to be on it,” Taiwo said. “That now becoming a reality — it just makes every second that you questioned the journey, every second that you questioned if you are too tired or making excuses for yourself, you know it really just blows that all away.

“It makes you say, ‘Hey, I did everything right.’ “